Since 2010, the Insidious franchise has been terrifying audiences by blurring the lines between the world of the living and the very sinister real of The Further. Now in 2023, the Lambert family is once again in trouble in the new climactic film Insidious: The Red Door. Ty Simpkins, Rose Byrne, and Lin Shaye return for this haunting conclusion along with Patrick Wilson who not only plays a leading role, but makes his directorial debut. To connect our familiar characters in today’s world and bring to life the fearsome entities of The Further, Patrick Wilson turned to costume designer Dajia Milan who’s love for horror, costumes, and storytelling proved to be the perfect match to help the Lamberts finish their story. Insidious: The Red Door costume designer Dajia Milan spoke with The Art of Costume about her process and some of the haunting moments that took place on set.
Spencer Williams: I am so excited to be joined by Insidious: The Red Door costume designer Dajia Milan! I’m such a fan of horror and, specifically, the Insidious franchise. Let’s dive into it. First, I want to know a little more about you. You’ve worked on some great projects, such as Broad City and Pose. Why did you choose costume design as your path?
Dajia Milan: It’s such a funny story. I kind of fell into it. I actually got my start just loving costumes, fashion, and clothing in general. As a little girl, I was always dressing Barbie dolls. I was the girl who would just buy the clothes, dress the dolls, put them back in the box, and just store them on my shelf. I actually never played with my toys. I would just dress them and look at them, which essentially led me to what I do now!
Spencer Williams: Oh, Greta Gerwig… If you’re reading this, we need to get Dajia on the Barbie sequel. *laughs*
Dajia Milan: *laughs* Listen, Barbie has many girlfriends. Let’s tell all the stories.
Spencer Williams: Would you consider yourself a fan of horror?
Dajia Milan: Absolutely.
Spencer Williams: What’s your favorite scary movie?
Dajia Milan: Oh my! I’ve always been a fan of horror. So the one that literally always scares me to this day is Candyman—just the thought of the mirror. Is he really going to pop up if I say it or not? As a kid, I used to play Bloody Mary, and one day the lights just started flickering… I’ve been terrified ever since. So anything with the mirror, I just don’t play with! I loved Child’s Play and Halloween. I think Freddy Krueger is hilarious. It’s a comedy more than a horror, but you know, like the rest of us true crime girls, we’ll sit there, eat our chips, ice cream, and go about our day! I’ve always just been interested in horror. So I was thrilled when I got offered the job because I already was a fan of Insidious.
Spencer Williams: This is too perfect then! Let’s talk about Insidious: The Red Door. I remember seeing the first film back when I was in high school at a friend’s house, and I so badly wanted to call my parents to pick me up! It was so scary! Now, this film was Patrick Wilson’s directorial debut AND, we can also say the same for you and your career. How do you prepare for Insidious: The Red Door? And what was it like collaborating with Patrick Wilson?
Dajia Milan: Preparing for this film, I watched all of the films back to back a million times over. Then when I got into really diving into the character building and into The Further, I just locked myself in the house for a while for days in the dark, watching all different types of horror films to give me some darkness.
Spencer Williams: A little astral projecting, perhaps?
Dajia Milan: Basically, I really just had to get into it. The only thing I could do was just be in the dark. So I’m just watching tons of horror and trying to scare myself and think of what would actually scare me. That’s how I would build some of these ideas, just thinking about what I would like to see that would scare me and the audience.When I went to Patrick with the costumes for both the principal cast and the people we see in The Further, I came up with a bunch of different kinds of concepts that he really, really loved! So it was really great to work with him so closely and also just being a fan of his because he’s such a horror king in a sense. Getting praise from him about the ideas that I had was just always great. Patrick’s really great!
Spencer Williams: It really came through on screen. You could tell that you really immersed yourself in the world. The costumes created an immersive experience and really allowed the horror to take over. That’s true for Dalton (played by Ty Simpkins), who’s really gone through it. How would you describe Dalton’s costumes in this film? I felt sad for him, but he still has a little style… He’s an artist at the end of the day.
Dajia Milan: I think that’s such the coolest part about being an artist is being able to express yourself in many ways. For Dalton, I wanted his costumes to represent who he is, this dark artist who was also inspired by his professor. But also, he is a skater kid. I got to try different types of prints and patterns, things to actually give him a little bit more personality so that we can see who he actually is throughout the film.
Spencer Williams: Oh, poor Dalton… While Insidious: The Red Door is a dark story, literally and figuratively, Chris brought a certain contemporary light and style to it. I caught her in that TLC shirt! Talk to me about Chris’s style.
Dajia Milan: Chris was my absolute favorite because I was able to make her this burst of personality with these electric colors, prints, and patterns. Sinclair Daniel was just the best to dress. We had so much fun in our fittings. It was like playing dress-up!When I read the script, I automatically thought it didn’t make too much immediate sense for Chris and Dalton to be friends.
So I needed to differentiate that between them. He’s this darkness, and she needs to bring something to him. The color brought this layer to the film that you definitely don’t see much in horror films. I wanted her to have this electric, eclectic energy that was inspired by the art school kids I would hang out with in high school. It just worked out perfectly. In horror, you tend to see a lot of things that blend in. It’s all very dark, and you can barely see who these people are. Because it is the final hurrah for the franchise, I felt it was important to make sure we can see these people, especially since they’re all new to the audience.
Spencer Williams: Chris was such a light and brought me so much joy. It didn’t last long, though, as we astral projected our way into The Further. Let’s talk about designing costumes for the very spooky entities we meet in this film. How did you approach designing these costumes?
Dajia Milan: Patrick and I joked a lot about when we see horror films, there are always Victorian ghosts… *laughs*
Spencer Williams: Stop! That is so true! Why is every house just full of Victorian ghosts? *laughs*
Dajia Milan: Shouldn’t there be ghosts of people dying in other time periods, centuries, and cultures? So when we made that realization, I thought, “Why don’t we just have different entities from different time periods and walks of life?” Because of how this story is structured with Dalton in college, all of this stuff is happening in the college world and around Josh’s life. We wanted to pull from everyday life, like the MRI scene, for example. It was a little terrifying on set, with the crawling… this was insane!
Spencer Williams: Even on set, you all were a little creeped out?
Dajia Milan: I was a little creeped out. It’s really dark on set. I will tell you… there were some instances on set where creepy little things would happen to us.
Spencer Williams: Um… well. Thanks for your time. I’ve got to go! *laughs nervously*
Dajia Milan: I’m not kidding. Creating The Further felt like we were becoming part of it. We had some real-life little instances on set… I kept feeling like things were around me. So I definitely had to sage my house after the end of the film.
Spencer Williams: That’s too creepy. I’m going to sage right after this. So… let’s talk about something a bit more cheerful. Blood! Costume breakdown. The costumes don’t just go right from the clothing rack and onto the set. Many of these entities show a lot of wear and tear in their costumes. Tell me a bit about your breakdown process.
Dajia Milan: My costume supervisor, who is amazing; she actually worked on The Walking Dead. Honestly, this was all new to me. So I would just sit there and watch these amazing people work. I had a really, really great team to take what I had in mind and bring it to life. My supervisor really had to work with the “sick kid” vomit scene. It was disgusting. It was a long day, and my supervisor, she had to go and put all of that on the costumes. It was really cool being able to just think of these nasty things that we can do to terrify people.
Spencer Williams: That’s the fun of it all! The imagination, the creativity, things that you don’t get to do or see in your everyday life. I will say that I felt like The Further felt spookier this time. In some ways, I want to say it felt a bit more realistic and more realized. That was exciting!
Dajia Milan: There were tons of other entities that we created that were really, really cool that didn’t make it too!
Spencer Williams: We get a quick but powerful glimpse of Lin Shaye as Elise Rainier, which is such a satisfying, great moment just for all the fans. What was it like working with her during this special moment?
Dajia Milan: Lin Shaye is just magical on camera and to work with. She’s the sweetest woman I’ve ever met. We talked a lot about horses because I was, at the time, learning how to ride horses. We bonded. The first day she was on set, it was for the YouTube sequence, and she just delivered such an impeccable first take, and everyone was so blown away. It just felt so powerful. I felt Elise when she steps on set.
Spencer Williams: She’s able to control a room just with her voice and body movements. For example, when she changes her tone in that YouTube video. You could feel the entire theater shut up for a second.
Dajia Milan: Exactly. That’s how it felt on set. She is Elise.
Spencer Williams: You talked a bit about working with your team… and a costume designer is only as good as their team. I was struck by the number of costumes in this film between The Further and even the baby frat scenes. Tell me about working with your crew and how you all came together to bring these costumes to life.
Dajia Milan: It was definitely a team effort. I really had a great team on this. We all came up with ideas. My design team, supervisor, and I were all just playing around. We had so much fun on the frat party scene. We were sending people out to buy adult diapers and bibs! It was definitely a joy. Everyone pitched in. We just had a really good time!
Spencer Williams: I want to end by asking you, Dajia, what did this film mean to you?
Dajia Milan: Oh man, it was full circle. Just being a fan as a young teen, watching Insidious at home and in theaters… then one day growing up to be a part of it was a dream. I’ve always wanted to do horror. To be part of something that I grew up on is just so thrilling for me. I was through the moon when my agent called me. When I first met Patrick, our interview lasted for maybe two hours. We were just spitballing so many ideas about what we could do. It was the perfect fit.
Spencer Williams: Costume designer Dajia Milan. Thank you so much for joining me. It’s been such a pleasure meeting you. I love the film, and I am just so happy for you. Congratulations.
Dajia Milan: This was wonderful. Thank you for having me!